WeMENA: Elevating Female Driven Innovation in the Middle East and North Africa WeMENA: Elevating Female Driven Innovation In The Middle East And North Africa Amidst talk that we no longer require the World Bank as an institution and could perhaps get along just fine without it, it has created a program that has brought it right back into the 21st century with WeMENA, focused on bringing innovation and prosperity to female lead entrepreneurial pursuits in the Middle-East and North Africa. Concentrated on an area of the world where women are predominantly viewed as second to their male peers, the program is an expansive and intellectual look at how going forward, the world has an opportunity to change through business formulated by both men and women – regardless of geographic inadequacies or religious practices in the region. The program is now in its second phase, having successfully completed Phase 1 in 2015, it now opens itself up to a wider span of cities, of which candidates can choose from to concentrate their entrepreneurial plans. How can their ideas foster change and protect the cities of Alexandria, Amman, Beirut, Byblos, Cairo, Casablanca, Ramallah, or Tunis from the frequent knocks they receive – be it natural or otherwise is the big question WeMena have asked, and the women of the world (only females may apply) have responded, in their droves. Yasmine El Bagarri - Courtesy of Microsoft Office YouNoodle – tech giant and startup guru, is behind the concept with the World Bank, and together the competition they’ve created has captured minds from all over the globe to come and pitch to the team. Yasmine El Baggari, founder of Voyaj and an entrepreneur herself, has also joined YouNoodle as an ‘on the ground’ ambassador. “With the help of this program, women in the region will be able to provide private sector solutions to these challenges, and in doing so create jobs, economic prosperity and a more equitable society.” Said Yasmine The opportunity to not only work with this team but benefit from financial stimulus toward your business has already been reaped by three women last year who got to share the spoils of $150,000 towards their individual ventures aimed at improving living standards in Beirut and Cairo. Rawda Romston, Sara Helo and Hoda Mahmoud became the first winners of the elite competition in 2015 of the ‘Women for Resilience Initiative.’ for which they each received $55,00 towards their respective projects in Beirut and Cairo. From modern housing initiatives to improvement of the public transport systems – the practicability of these ladies’ projects was what won them the grand award and why they’ve inspired so many others to come forward and attempt the contest, which can really only benefit you in the long run, even if you do not succeed in winning. The participation will further your ambitions regardless, for, as winner Romston notes – networking really is the very basis of any entrepreneurial pursuit. “The MENA region is ripe with innovation and many women in the area are leading the effort to develop ideas that will help to sustain local economies and create responsible investment opportunities for investors,” said Olivier Lavinal, Advisor to the Vice President for the MENA Region at World Bank. The competition is as forward thinking as it is powerful – who else is doing something so new and so boundary breaking in regions such as this where women have always very much paled in comparison to their male peers on the business stage? For those female entrepreneurs coming up in the UAE for example, many comment that while the business opportunities are there, and aplenty, women are nudged into typically feminine directions, such as healthcare, beauty and education. Never before have we seen an institution with the level of reach the World Bank has, and a tech company with the recognition and worldwide acclaim of YouNoodle come together to task the world with a competition such as this. They are daring the women of the MENA regions to forward their dreams; ideas; abstract concepts – to formulate a plan to turn them into a reality, and using feminism as a catalyst for this push. “By building sustainable innovation ecosystems, MENA countries can make substantial steps towards a knowledge based economy and become a global player in the technology and innovation ecosystem. This program will help to ensure that these efforts work toward continued idea generation and investment in this region,” said Torsten Kolind, CEO of YouNoodle. The emulsion of organizations as prolific as these for this sole purpose means that while this might be the first of such programs, it most certainly won’t be the last. This sends a global message to those excluding the prowess of the female in the industry of these regions; this wards off ignorance and staves the sexist. These women are ultimately paving the way for better and more sustainable living standards, while removing the stigma behind female-cultivated business at the same time. We salute Rawda, Sara and Hoda and look forward to seeing the next batch of ladies come through from 2017’s finalists. With the span widening to a larger group of cities to focus their efforts on, this year’s competition can only prove more fruitful than the last and excite an entrepreneurial thrust into those places sorely lacking in forward thinkers and innovators. Female innovators interested in entering the competition can find more information by logging on to: www.we-mena.org. Amy Corcoran Head of Content at SWAAY: Amy is an Irish writer, avid foodie and feminist with an insatiable appetite for novels and empowering women's writing. She has enjoyed calling Dublin, Paris and now New York her home.